Zeiss Ikon Ikoflexes are close copies of Rolleiflexes. For some reason, they do not have the good reputation of the Rolleiflexes even though they use the same lenses and shutters – both, incidentally, made by Zeiss subsidiaries.
My specimen is an Ikoflex II and has a lens serial number that dates from mid 1936 and a shutter serial number that dates from late 1936. The camera has a focussing lever rather than knob – this was changed to a knob in 1937. Together, this suggest a date for my camera of late 1936 to early 1937. My specimen has a serial number of B17187 – this is found on the base just under the tripod thread. I am told by the Zeiss Ikon Collectors group that the B serial numbers date from 1936 so I am confident that this camera body was made in 1936 although it is possible that the body, lens and shutter were put together in 1937.
The 1937 Photographic Almanac has a description of this camera and suggests that my camera – Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and Compur Rapid shutter – cost £20-10-0 and a cheaper version – Carl Zeiss Triotar lens and normal Compur shutter – cost £14-15-0. Both versions required quite a good salary to being able to afford one.
The picture lens in my camera is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f3.5, 7.5cm focal length and the focussing lens a Terona Anastigmat also 7.5cm focal length (pre-WWII, Carl Zeiss lenses had their focal length stated in cm and after WWII in mm). This picture lens is as good as pre-war lenses get and pretty much as good as lenses get altogether. The shutter is a Compur-Rapid leaf shutter which has speeds down to 1/500 of a second. That is as fast as we go with a leaf shutter – any faster and you need a focal plane shutter ( I am told by experts that the actual top speed reached by a Compur-Rapid was nearer to 1/300 than the nominal 1/500). This shutter has neither flash synchronisation nor delayed action.
Focussing takes a bit of getting used to. You look down onto a ground glass screen and the image is reversed left-to-right. As you move the camera to refine the composition, the image moves in the opposite way to that of the camera and slight tilting of the camera will put all the verticals out of kilter. On a more positive note, the viewing screen is large and there is a magnifier to magnify the central portion for critical focussing. Focussing of the lens is carried out with a lever – this was replaced with a more conventional knob in 1937. The focussing lever is actually quite easy to use and moves across a distance quadrant which allows you to read off the depth of field at any given aperture.
The aperture control is partially hidden by the focussing lens and the f16 and f22 settings are hard to see. To offset this, the lens is a very fast lens for the time – f3.5 fully open. With a range of speed of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500 seconds as well as B and T together with apertures from f3.5 to f22, this camera can cope with dull weather and bright sunshine with both slow (ISO 50) and fast (ISO 400) films. The one big drawback here is if you hold the camera too firmly (i.e. holding the front plate as well as the body) it is not possible to focus as the front plate with both lenses moves to and fro to achieve focus.
This camera is easy to use two handed. The left hand both focusses and cocks the shutter while the right hand releases the shutter release. After the picture is taken, the film needs to be wound on before the shutter can be set again. One draw back here is that the film can easily be wound on too far, there is no ‘stop’ as the film is wound on far enough – something we 35mm photographers take for granted. As well as the waist-level finder, there is also a direct vision finder. The centre of the front plate of the waist-level finder can be pushed out of the way, and the picture composed through a small hole in the rear plate. As this is direct vision, there is no reversing of the image, but it is also not possible to use this finder to focus the image.
When loading the film, the film passes over a roller that “counts” the film. When the first number appears in the red window, a small lever on the side resets the film counter to “1” and from then on, you must use the film counter and not the numbers in the red window. If you forget and use the numbers in the red window, you will get eight negatives only with large gaps between them – the series of numbers used are for 6 x 9 cm negatives. This camera takes twelve pictures on a roll of 120 film (or BII as Zeiss Ikon call it.) – each negative being 6 cm x 6 cm.
There in one tripod bush on the base (there would be no point in having two bushes on a square format camera). It is a standard 1/4 Whitworth bush. This is unusual in my 1930s Zeiss Ikon cameras which usually have a 3/8 Whitworth bush with a removable 1/4 Whitworth insert.
Really, there is no a lot more to say about this camera. It is not sophisticated (as later models in the range were) but has a good lens and a good shutter and as a result it takes excellent pictures. What more do you want from a camera?
The following is an advert from the Wallace Heaton Minitography and Cinematography catalogue from 1939 (this is a slightly updated version of the camera I have described – the focus lever has been replaced with a focus knob but otherwise the same camera):